Entry 0012: Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Me

WeirdosLP

EP: Who? What? When? Where? Why? by the Weirdos

1979 BOMP! W3, BLP-4007

Favorite Track: Idle Life

 

I am feeling a tad nostalgic this Sunday evening so I decided to write about my favorite television show Mystery Science Theater 3000. For those uninitiated, MST3k (as it is known in shorthand) was the brainchild of Joel Hodgson, a Wisconsin-born prop comic and robotic tinker. In 1988, he pitched a show idea to Jim Mallon, production manager for the Minneapolis UHF station KTMA-TV, channel 23. Hail Eris! The show was about a janitor who had been shot into space and subjected to bad movies which he and his two robot companions make jokes about. After a year on KTMA, which evolved both in aesthetic design and comedic content, MST3k became the flag show for Comedy Channel then Comedy Central until 1996, the same year MST3k: the Movie came out. After a brief hiatus looking for a new channel, Sci-Fi Channel picked up MST3k for 3 more years before the final episode debuted on August 8th, 1999 after 197 episodes.

My own personal history with Mystery Science started one Sunday morning before my family attended 11:30 am church. Like many things in my life, my brother was the catalyst. He was flipping through the channels when he stopped at one with some shadowy figures sitting in movie seats before a movie screen, and said, “This is the show where they make fun of movies.” The episode was Warrior of the Lost World, an episode which would take me years to re-discover and oh boy when I did, and it was about halfway through when Megaweapon rolled on to the screen. The robots, Tom Servo and Crow although I did not yet know their names, started making sarcastic quips that the protagonist of the film should die and that Megaweapon was awesome despite the movie was clearly depicting Megaweapon as evil. I laughed. I did not forget the name of the show.

Soon, I became engulfed with it. I watched it whenever I could even though I often fell asleep when it was on late at night. My friends and I bought the Rhino VHS tapes of such classic episodes as Pod People, Cave Dwellers, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, and Wild World of Batwoman. It was becoming something more than a television show to me: it was the unifying point in friendship and family bonding. I have many great memories of this show, but two stand out the most. The first happened during this first immersion into the wacky, esoteric comedy of movie riffing. I had purchased the VHS tape of Wild World of Batwoman at Suncoast Videos at the Tri-County Mall when I was the tender age of 16 or 17. Some miracle happened and my brother must have been out with his friends so I had the TV set to myself. I decided to watch Wild World when my father sat down on the couch to join me. There’s no way he is going to like this, I thought to myself as the rhino in the leather jacket popped up alongside the FBI warning. The show began with a short about cheating. We were in tears by the time it was done. My dad and I do not have similar tastes in movies; he loves the tradition gangster movies like Goodfellas and the Godfather and I liked weird films like Videodrome and Kids. We do share a love of Steve Martin though. If we thought the short was too much, we were just getting started with Wild World of Batwoman. The movie is a hopeless mess from incompetent Batgirls who watch crime happen while doing nothing about it to a villain named Ratfink who wears a luchador’s mask to an atomic hearing aid to what must have been a clothing shortage or a surplus at the bikini store. We howled. Mike Nelson, the second host and head writer for the show, and the bots were relentless. And all the actor’s kept dancing in the background, foreground, any ground. Why so much dancing and surf rock? Why the blatantly racist seance scene? Or the multiple Ratfinks running around the laboratory at the end of the film? Why is a question better left unanswered concerning this movie. When I was done, my dad and I couldn’t stop talking and laughing about what we had witnessed.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 acted like a secret door opening up the world of cinema. Sometimes, the end results are just not very good and no amount of “movie magic” can save it.

But, thank goodness, Joel, Mike, Kevin, Trace, Mary Jo, Bill and Josh could. They saved these films from complete obscurity and turned them into something better than “so bad it’s good”–they were “so bad it’s perfect”.

When I graduated from high school, I did not know I would be losing a friend. Mystery Science had become some kind of boon companion for me, a friend to laugh with whether or not any of my other friends were in the room. I am sure that I watched an episode or two while in college (Pod People most likely) but I was becoming less reticent and more interested in dancing and karaoke and meeting new people. Before I knew it, the years had flown by.

2008 was a big year for me. I graduated from the University of South Carolina with a Master’s in Library and Information Science, left sunny Columbia for the grey skies of Portland, Oregon, met some famous authors, read Moby Dick, couldn’t land a job, found a job in Cincinnati (tipped off by one of my best friends) and moved to a quaint, quirky, and, actually, downright insane Ludlow Avenue where my friend and I quickly found a nice loft apartment overlooking the parking lot of a CVS. I also re-discovered MST3k. Another librarian and I were having a geek-off and both of us were prime candidates for the socially inept asylum. Both of us had a love for MST3k. She had them all on her computer and was willing to burn them for me. Don’t worry: I have purchased every single MST3k DVD I can lay my hands on since then. I have never been much of a pirate when it comes to the arts.

I introduced my friends who had never seen it. At the same time, I watched episodes I had never seen before. Years ago, I wouldn’t have said it was my favorite show. Now, I hungered for more. People responded splendidly. In fact, one friend Jessica (who always kept us informed about the Wisconsin references only a native would know) was upset when we watched an episode without her. She said, “Why don’t we watch it on Sundays?” She added, “At Mark’s. He has a liquor cabinet.” I asked him and he was perfectly fine with it. Little did any of us realize what was going to happen the next four years.

Nothing irks me more than the fact that I cannot remember what episode we watched for the first official Mystery Science Sunday. For all the notes I would take, trivia questions to create, different ways to select episodes and funny lines to memorize, I cannot for the life of me recall what it is. I have backtracked and narrowed it down using my notes to determine 14 possibilities, but that is the best I can do. Thank you Mark’s liquor cabinet. But it doesn’t matter. The seed was planted. Every Sunday at 9 pm, my friends would gather and watch MST3k. There was no better way to end the week (I have always seen Sunday as an ending and not a beginning, but it is also the best way to start the week too) than to sit in a dark room with your friends relaxing and laughing at the absurdity of the movies and the intelligent wisecracks of the comedians. Our numbers kept growing to sometimes reaching close to 20 people in one room! One personal favorite moment was during Godzilla Versus the Sea Monster and the Mad Scientists invented a guitar made out of dog toys. Zeeva, Mark’s dog, ran to the screen and licked it in eager anticipation.

At the halfway point of watching the complete series, I gave a speech. I thanked my friends for doing this, yet they did not need to be thanked. They were enjoying it just as much as I was. But I grew a tad nervous. There was so much still to watch and our lives were beginning to change. Mystery Science Sundays prevailed however. We threw costume parties, mini-marathons (with the exception of the time we watched Invasion of the Neptune Men and we all needed several drinks at the bar), trivia quizzes for prizes and the Aztec Mummy vs. Robot battle night where we wrestled each other awake from a rather soporific season one episode. Attendance was becoming smaller or uneven given the particular week. On a few occasions, only two of us brave souls could attend. Very few Sundays were ever spared, the exceptions being holidays.

My friends and I were bonding. We were growing together as a unit in laughter and continuity errors.

On October 13, 2013, we watched Danger: Diabolik. Mystery Science Sundays was over. I handed out MST3k diplomas while Pomp and Circumstances played from the speakers.

I learned a lot from those four years. My friends are amazing. They came along with my passion and dream of watching every single episode of the show. A few of us even drove up to Milwaukee and caught one of the last Cinematic Titanic shows. I even got to meet some of my heroes and get their autographs, a picture of Joel, and to hand him a thank you card which one of my friends mistook for a going away card and wrote a completely irrelevant message in it. But who doesn’t love irrelevant things more than the cast of MST3k? It was very common to hear people speak of Mystery Science Sunday as the best night of their life. One said, “even if the movie sucks, I am surrounded by my friends.”

Nothing in my life besides holidays have brought people together than MST3k. And that I have found is one of the most important elements in life. I notice people’s absences now when I watch it alone. A joke I shared a side glance with a friend doesn’t ring as loud anymore. I am not complaining about that, just stating a fact. The show is more funny in a communal environment perhaps because it was such a communal show to make. Every one was involved and a part of it. Life is fast, unexpected, full of routine and yet always in need of more spontaneous adventures, and, most importantly, life just doesn’t have enough time in it. So you have to set some time for it. For four years at 9 to 10:30 pm, I had time for it.

I am so proud to have been a part of Mystery Science Sundays. For those of you MSTies out there, I highly suggest you try it. Call some friends up, buy some beer or wine, and pick a random episode. Repeat for four years. If you have never seen the show then I suggest you do all of the above but instead of going random, try Future War or Pod People or Space Mutiny or Manos: the Hands of Fate.

“It stinks.”

 

 

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Entry 0011: A Return to the Beginning

canpapa

LP: Future Days by Can

2014 Spoon Records XSPOON9, Mute 9385-1

Favorite Track: Moonshake

 

Papa Jazz Record Shoppe can be found at 2014 Greene Street next to a Pita Pit and a Korean restaurant. It is located on a side street of the college shopping and nightlife area known as 5-Points, the city’s oldest shopping district and site of the first supermarket in Columbia, South Carolina. Restaurants, bars, and shopping boutiques fill the other store fronts along Harden Street. There are a few puddles remaining from the morning shower and people step around them in a holiday rush as they enter and leave stores with more bags in their hands. Things have not changed much since this small strip of land was one of my stomping grounds. The buildings still look like they could use a wash and a new coat of paint. Some of the store signs need repaired. The Irish tavern is still there, but it looked like the dive bar I first stopped to have a drink as a new Gamecock is for sale. I am here just for Papa Jazz, a return to the beginning of an obsession, a key location in the development of my musical tastes, but also my life.

A future entry will further expound on my reasons for record collecting. My first post (https://storiesonrecords.wordpress.com/2014/11/21/entry-0001-first-record-purchase/) made a comedy of an impulsive shopping purchase and flirtation attempt. But it was in May of 2006 when I first entered Papa Jazz that my record collecting started. I was immediately drawn to the store for a couple of reasons. First, you could walk right past it without seeing it. The brick facade is covered in torn flyers and poster remnants. The door easily could lead into a garage or auto repair shop. The signage is attractive but not imposing. Papa Jazz does not need to tell people where it is at; people know. Second, the name is perfect. If you are picturing a large room with record crates crammed between bookshelves full of CDs and DVDs, a variety of knick knacks lying around, and a man with grey ponytail in comfortable clothes, a professor of the cool before you even knew what that word meant, deciding which more esoteric record to put on the stereo then congratulations, you have correctly perceived Papa Jazz. The New Arrival crates sit by the cash register and there are plenty of others to dig through scattered around the perimeter of the store. I remember quite a few of my record scores throughout the years including my first at Papa Jazz, the first official record store experience I had.

I had grabbed Monster by Herbie Hancock because I was really into Speak Like A Child at the time as well as a Charlie Parker on dial LP, Billie Holliday’s All or Nothing at All, and Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis. I thought that was all I was going to buy, but I decided to hunt through the rock LPs just to see what was there. This decision radically changed my direction of record collecting. I was originally going to have a modest jazz collection. Music I could enjoy while cooking dinner or have wine nights with friends or writing music. When I found London Calling by the Clash and Horses by Patti Smith, I just added them to the pile and kept looking. But the gears in my brain were shifting. They were rewinding. Punk rock was the first time I found music that really spoke to me. It made sense for me to collect it. I didn’t also realize at the time how much the cover art was speaking and influencing me. When I got home, I put on some jazz on my new record player I had ordered online and sat on my bed. Everything was good, but Horses was great. Horses changed everything. And I couldn’t stop staring at Patti Smith in her white button up, jacket casually thrown over her shoulder, hair a bit untamed.

Today, as I walked into the shop, I remembered that first time. And how every time I walk into a record store it is the same thrill. Uncertainty. Atmosphere. Luck? What will I walk away with today or will I walk away with anything at all? Today, as I searched through the crates, I felt eight years younger. I asked myself: if today was my first day buying records, would it be the same? Would I become as obsessed as I did? I found a lot of albums I already have in my collection, but if it was my first time I would have bought. For a second, I considered buying them again so this imaginary recordless me could have the same thrill I had eight years. Yes, if today has been my first time, I would have been obsessed. Papa Jazz takes great care and pride to award dreams of music lovers.

I bought the re-issued, re-mastered Future Days by Can. The owner asked me how I was and said the store was doing great. I am proud to support it. I highly recommend if you are in the area to check it out. Or take a vacation to Charleston or Hilton Head and stop in on your way. Or check out their website at http://www.papajazz.com.

Record sales may continue to be going up, however, the majority of people buy them on Amazon or at Urban Outfitters. Let us save our small independent stores like Papa Jazz. They make record collecting worth it.

 

Entry 0010: The Long Wait

DamnedMachine

LP: Machine Gune Etiquette by the Damned

2014 Drastic Plastic Records DPRLP54, 52 (?) out of 200, opaque red

Favorite Track: Smash It Up (part I and II)

 

I have a secret.

I am going to lower my voice so if you have trouble understanding me, please speak up. I know it is uncomfortable to be hiding in this coat closet full of leather and jean jackets. I apologize for having to wake you so late at night when you have many things to do tomorrow. The moon is a sliver tonight like the opening of some hidden passage.

My secret has been a long time coming. There is no point telling you about the waiting. You know how restless you get, how your hands and feet twitch with anticipation. You know about the bitterness when it is not there. You know about living unsatisfied day to day. Nights and days pass. While you are awake, they drag. You never seem to get any sleep. The next thing you know it is December and you have no idea how four months have gone by. Five. Six.

Hold your breath for a second. I do not mean to criticize but you sound like the summer wind blowing through a forest canopy. Somebody might here me and then I’ll be in trouble. You don’t want me to be in trouble because you don’t want to be in trouble yourself. We are in this together, right? Good. Now relax, yet listen. You know about my vast treasures that I sort in the magical vault in my mansion. I have given you a tour, no? Oh, yes, of course, just yesterday when you first arrived at The Sparrow Mansion. They are nice treasures, aren’t they? They are records. Things that used to exist on this planet before the Last Summer. Before we didn’t have to wear these shield suits and breathing apparatuses.

There is one record that is very special. You have a wife, sir? Five years. You love her very much, but I suspect it wasn’t a fairy tale. You didn’t just meet this stranger, fall in love, and live happily ever after, did you? No, I bet you had to wait. You had to wait, talk, fight, wait, break-up, wait, try again, didn’t you? Yes, we all do. Except for me. No sir, you are too kind. No, I never found the time for love. I was too busy treasure hunting. But as I was saying, there is one record that is very special. You could say that I love that record. I certainly waited very long for it.

There was a band called The Damned and they cut the very first punk single. Punk? It was a type of music: fast, aggressive, catchy tunes full of teenage angst, loneliness, lustful, politically charged. It was the first music to act as a mirror. In my youth, I learned all the bands and listened to them dreaming that I was born a couple of decades before so I could have seen them live. The Clash, The Misfits, Minor Threat, X, and the Damned. I said I heard every album. That wasn’t true. Some I had only heard one or two songs. Machine Gun Etiquette by the Damned was one of those albums. I had heard The Offspring cover “Smash It Up” and then found the original. Some time around college I heard “Love Song” and “Machine Gun Etiquette” but that was it. The rest of the album remained a mystery for no good reason. I could have bought or borrowed the album at any time.

Life is like that however. It keeps things a mystery for the sake of bewilderment. I started collecting treasures in university often at the expense of being able to take out girls or catch the local theatre program. And one of the albums I sought was Machine Gun Etiquette. I wanted to clench that puzzle in my hands, take it home, tear off the wrapper, gently place the record on the platter, and push play. Listen to the noisy solution, years of unanswered questions being fulfilled sonically. The urge became so intense I would have nightmares about it. I would wake up with fingernail marks embedded in the palms of my flesh.

Quiet! Footsteps.

Sorry. Just the house settling. I am new to Sparrow Mansion and I still fear the old secrets I have learned about the place. The skeletons in the closet, eh? Pardon my poor joke. Let out your breath. I will continue, but quieter and quicker.

I searched for the album for eight years before I gave up. I never ever saw it. I didn’t walk into the store and see a person buying it before I got to it like I did with the Cramps’ Gravest Hits. I didn’t see it for sale online. I didn’t find a copy not for sale or too expensive. It was as if it never existed. And I began to doubt. I can see in your face that you know what I am talking about. That eerie existential dread, that personal gloom. I bought many other treasures to hide the gaping hole in my heart and my collection. Time disappeared.

How long did you say you have been with your woman? Ah, yes, good. That is a good time to spend with a lover. Did you tell her that you were coming here? That you were just going out to see a fellow collector? Well, you didn’t mention Sparrow Mansion did you? Good, good. People say such unsavory rumors about this place. That my family tree is mad. Ghoulish. Misanthropic. I can assure you they are all queer fantasies, bored local talk. We are scientific with a touch of insanity (I cannot deny my grandfather staying in Arkham Asylum after the war) but that comes with our line of research. We just mind our own business is all.

Now back to business. I found Machine Gun Etiquette. I found it on a rainy November afternoon. I wasn’t even looking for it. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t read, and none of the potions in my laboratory were done brewing. Do you take walks? Yes, they are nice to clear your head. Or fill it. I get all my best writing ideas when I am on my feet. Scary tales, mostly. I never have a notepad on me though. What? Oh yes, back to the treasure. I found it in the basement of the Curiosity Shoppe. Behind some curios from the ancient land of Mu. I remember next to nothing at that until I was home quivering before my record player. The album was blood red. The blood had drained from my hands leaving them pallid like bones buried in the sand.

I pressed play. It was magical. The spell of my secret only served to increase the pleasure I received from listening to this punk classic. The unfamiliar songs were as good as the ones I had heard many moons ago. It is like being kissed, isn’t it? You do it every day, but you remember each one. But each one is different, new, surprising. And you never tire of it. No, no, you did not laugh so loud. I am not that punctilious. We can listen to it now. If you want to. You do? Good. Step out of the closet.

You didn’t feel the floor shifting, did you? My story that riveting? I take that as the highest compliment. Yes, Sparrow Mansion has many secrets and one of them is the floor plan can change. And now you can see one of the other secrets of Sparrow Mansion. Allow me to shackle your wrists. Music is best enjoyed if you are perfectly still. Hardly breathing. Not muttering your own noise. Let me chain your legs now. What are all these treasures? Well, of course, Sparrow Mansion would have a murder room.

You see, my secret has a secret.

I may have found Machine Gun Etiquette, but I have waited even longer for Damned, Damned, Damned. Having savored the penultimate pleasure of Machine Gun Etiquette, my patience has run out. I need Damned, Damned, Damned. I heard you own a copy, sir. A pristine copy, played only once. By your wife when she was waiting for you to return. She may be listening to it right now. You will not be returning.

Madness is scientific. I did not, however, lie. I am putting on Machine Gun Etiquette right now. Be still. Be silent. Let the music take you to the mystery.

Never mind my blade skinning your back.

Entry 0009: Reading in the Clouds

WireEP

EP: Map Ref. 41°N 93°W by Wire

1979 Harvest Records HAR 5192, 7-inch

Favorite Track: 41°N 93°W

 

I love airports. Don’t get me wrong–I really hate airport security. I hate how much it costs to fly. I hate waiting for the luggage to arrive at baggage claim, worrying the whole time if it has been lost or damaged or rummaged through in some way. I especially hate finding a means to get to the airport. I even hate eating and drinking at an airport. But, in the end, after all the taking off and putting on of shoes and getting charged extra fees for having luggage, I still love airports for two reasons.

One: I am going somewhere or I am returning home. Both are great feelings. Traveling has always been a part of my life whether I wanted it or not because my parents were into traveling. They were also in moving a lot too but no amount of carrying heavy boxes and furniture up countless stairs will ever make me like moving. We often drove long hours with me in the back seat reading a book. My dad would probably say I missed half of the trip. I would argue the relatively flat American landscape dotted with corporate logos was better missed for the imagined worlds of Kurt Vonnegut, Stephen King, and Douglas Adams. One notorious trip to Yellowstone, I completed 12 novels including the unabridged copy of the Stand. Technically, I think I finished it two or three days after the trip but I read the majority of it on the road, which I also read that trip. We had to stop 3 times, I think, for me to purchase more books. It was wonderful. Returning home is also wonderful. Not just because it is a return to the comfort of routine and every day life, but it is also a departure from a list of annoyances that are bound to come up while traveling. I find the night I return to be a necessary reflective moment: I in my PJs with a glass of Tempranillo in my hand writing a thought or two about my recent experiences. I suppose a hot shower should be included in that, however, I am used too tired or too fearful the calming sensation of running water will put me to sleep before I can turn my mind back to the Mona Lisa or Kafka’s messy handwriting or the Bone Church at Kutna Hora.

Two: Being at the airport is essentially the same as waiting to ride the most popular roller coaster at an amusement park–Long hours of waiting plus one long pull up to the top plus a quick race to the end where more waiting occurs. What to do with all that time? Read. Maybe I am at airports by myself too much so I don’t have people to play a quick game of Pandemic or Dominion. Maybe I have yet to try saying hello to one of the many beautiful women who are also sitting around and waiting. Maybe I am not distracted by Facebook, YouTube, NetFlix, or e-mail like many others. Luckily, my work stays at work. So I read. I can usually finish one book on the trip there and read another on the trip back. Or blast one 600+ book. I usually travel sitting at the windows periodically looking down at the world below from a perspective I rarely see it from. But the clouds mostly obscure the farmlands or we are too high up to make out anything but the highways and tallest skyscrapers. I am reminded of the lyrics from the Talking Heads song “The Big Country.” Then I start a new chapter. Reading makes me forget how stiff my knees are becoming.

A week from today, I will be traveling to South Carolina to visit my parents. I have thought of bringing some of the books from my to-read shelf, but I just complicated matters by purchasing Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. I will probably change my mind three times before I just throw four random books into my bag. Somehow, I am always rushing out the door when it is time to go. My parents are excited to see me. I wish I could stay longer, but the library is open almost every single day of the year. For all those who are traveling this year, I suggest you bring a novel this time. A graphic novel would work to if you are more inclined toward illustrations. But put away your phones and lap tops. Escape from this world for a couple of hours. It really does make the time go fast and make sitting in an airport tolerable.

Entry 0008: The Big Find 1

GreatFind1

7-inches from upper left to bottom right:

Love You More by the Buzzcocks

1978 United Artist Records UP 36433

Favorite Track: Love You More

Rowche Rumble by the Fall

1979 Step-Forward Records SF 11

Favorite Track: Rowche Rumble

Everybody’s Happy Nowadays by the Buzzcocks

1979 United Artist Records UP 36499

Favorite Track: Why Can’t I Touch It?

Pay to Cum! by Bad Brains

2000 Not On Label

Favorite Track: Pay to Cum!

 

Maybe I am speaking to an older generation when I speak of the “big find”–that moment when digging through the crates and you see something you are intimately familiar with, but, for a second, you pass it like it is an illusion. Maybe it was your favorite CD handed down to you by parent or sibling, maybe you had a poster of it hanging on your wall, maybe you drooled on your keyboard while eating breakfast when the Discogs.com page loaded, maybe you only heard about it from way cooler friends and here it is in person. This isn’t Amazon or Discogs or the new record that Whole Foods and Urban Outfitters just stocked. This is from before you were born. This has never been reissued. This is why you go to your favorite record stores every week. This is why you find new record stores. This is something you have been waiting to see for eight, nine, ten plus years. This is you crying in public or jumping off of your feet or smiling so hard your teeth may shatter or laughing like an escaped mental asylum inmate. You are going to remember this moment for the rest of your life.

This is going to cost you.

In the ten plus years of record shopping, I have been fortunate to have experienced this sensation, this thrill numerous times. I will write about many of them. This particular “big find” was actually bigger than I could afford as I had to pass up on three other 7-inches: the Eton Rifles by the Jam, One Love by the Stone Roses (I already had it on 12″ but considered picking up the 7″ as well) and Bankrobber by the Clash. I believe the Eton Rifles is still there.

I remember this big find because of the accident it was. I am a firm believer in paying off the Goddess of Chance and Chaos, Eris. “Big Finds” always cost you more than it should and more than you should spend–let that be said by someone who started record collecting in the early 2000’s and missed the “this medium is dead” 90’s and the pre-inflation eras before that. I believe it paying Eris off because there is nothing I would choose to support more than randomness. But I also know that one has to continuously buy vinyl at record stores or they will stop carrying them because they are still a niche collector’s item despite annual increasing sales. So I sacrifice when the “big find” comes and finds me: I cut my own hair, I sell books I thought I was going to keep, I stop going to shows and movies and theater productions and going to the bars. I would rather spend it on records.

Accidents or random chance are the most fun aspect of the “big find.” This one happened because of a waitress. She was kind, efficient, and had an aura of good luck about her. I had no intention of walking down to Northside and flipping through the records. At the time, I had already overspent my record budget and was trying to resist the siren’s call. But as I handed her my card to pay the bill, I just blurted out “Yea, it is time to go record shopping.” She smiled and asked me what type of music I listened to and I am pretty sure I just stuttered an incomplete sentence or a non-existent genre. She took my card while I put on my heavy coat, gloves and scarf. Then I walked outside and could have went home. But I didn’t. I felt I would have been dishonest and there was something positive about her that seemed to have infected my feet because I had already walked past my house and I had just enough change in my coat pocket to ride the bus back. I was going record shopping.

I stopped at my first location and there were plenty of used goods in the recently arrival bins. Nothing that was going to make me break my pact–only a record on my list of 120 must owns would do it. I considered leaving. I thought: it has been a while since you’ve checked the 7-inches. I thought: It has been a while since you saw anything new. I thought: There looks like there is a new row that has never been there before. I thought: The first album is Slade’s My Oh My. I thought: Here are some Bauhaus records. Let’s keep digging. I thought: Holy —————————————————————–!

My heart began palpitating when I saw a Buzzcock’s single I already owned. When I found Love You More and Everybody’s Happy Nowadays I already considered it a “big find.” I never ever thought I would see one in person. I used to stare at the back of Singles Going Steady and dream of holding each one in my hand. Suddenly, two were in my hand. Behind that was Pay to Cum! Shrinkwrapped. Could it be an original? I dismissed that idea even though I yearned for some strange miracle. Then I came to the Fall’s Rowche Rumble. This technically was not on my 120-list even though plenty of Fall singles are. Part of that is I have the deluxe reissue of Dragnet and therefore have the song on wax. Part of it was I never even entertained seeing one like I did with the Buzzcocks.

It was also the most expensive.

It also sounds the best.

I went back and told the waitress she was good luck. She said thanks and you’re welcome. But I just wanted to say thanks again.

Entry 0007: The Tricksters of the Night

FallLP

LP: Grotesque by The Fall

2004 Earmark EA40038DLP, Gatefold, Double LP

Favorite Track: All of them as this is one of my favorite albums, but for the sake of hard decisions: The N.W.R.A.

12359874_10153340347413590_6583373023213430716_n

LP: Grotesque by The Fall

1980 Rough Trade Rough 18

Favorite Track: Now that I have an original, I will add English Scheme to my list of favorites

 

*To amuse and test myself, I slipped every single track title from Grotesque and the two singles that came out with it into the story. Some stick out like a sore thumb because, of course, I would choose the album with the song title C’n’C s-Mithering. [which means Cash and Carry S(tore)/(top) Mithering (mothering)]

When the police came for the remainders of my roommate, they did not believe me when I told them about the city hobgoblins. They said I was totally wired on meth, grotesque, a real sicko. Although one aging cop with steel eyes remarked I could have been a visionary artist if I had chosen a different medium than the human body. I reiterated about the hobgoblins. What was left of J. Temperance was carried out in four separate plastic baggies. The cop dusting the coffee table hurled into the whorls of fine black powder scattered across the glass surface. I was lead outside into the stabbing sunlight for the first time in four days. The paddy wagon smelled of bum piss. I struggled. They wouldn’t listen to me about the hobgoblins. They exist. I know you know. You have seen their hunched shapes moving about the darkness in the corner of your eyes. You have heard their ancient fingernails scrap rust off the pipes. You have heard their sharp teeth chew off the lights.

I am innocent. You are too if you believe me.

 

I put up a notice on the apartment’s bulletin board for a new roommate and it was answered within the hour. My impression of J. Temperance was that he was a solid, dependable man of frugal habits and possessing an intrinsic sympathy for minding his own business. Often his beaked-nose and black plastic frames were buried in a thick book while he read in the orange lounger by the living room window. I appreciated this silence and this respect for my own personal space as I had recently quit my job as a librarian to take up the study of occult magic. My interest in the field had peaked suddenly one wintry night when I was re-shelving books in our stacks and I found a curiously bound folio in the wrong spot. The book was 32 centimeters by 50, the yellowed pages clipped to fit under the cover, and a worm-eaten purple cloth emitted a dank odor. There was no title or publication page, however, on the bottom of a blank page, cribbed handwriting (most likely old batty Mrs. Applebaum, the former cataloging librarian who left a few years ago when her husband caught consumption) declared it W.M.C.-Blob 59. I knew not what this titled alluded to, if it alluded to anything real or imaginary at all, however the following pages were a palimpsest of arcane text, blasphemous diagrams, and the same handwriting elucidating on some of the more enigmatic sentences. I took it home to study. I had some understanding of dark magic every since my wife died.

Only once did J. Temperance disturb me in my work. The morning rain had ruined my constitution in the park. Perturbed, I lit a candle and sat in the orange chaise, rain tapping on the glass in a steady cadence. I had moved Temperance’s book to the coffee table so I had room to sit down and put my feet up as I unrolled a piece of parchment that I had discovered in a secret flap at the back of W.M.C.-Blob 59. The handwriting was not cribbed, but large, loopy and obviously written with an old quill pen. A few drops of what at the time I imagined was black ink had blotted out certain words in the text. It was titled How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man’ and I shrugged it off as an amateur attempt at a satirical poem. But after answering my telephone and insisting that I was sick (I had yet to quit at this point), I settled back in the seat and read it again. This time I notice the mystical qualities of the poem. What I had previously read as satire had an alternative interpretation like a sigil that opened different locks in a treasure chest depending on what key was inserted. The poem was instead a component list for casting a magic spell.

But what kind of magic? The author gave no specifics on the nature of spell transcribed. I did not hesitate. My tongue felt numb and velutinous as I tried to pronounce the odd syllables and guttural words. My face drained of heat and color. Lights flickered inside the apartment as a gust of intense wind rattled the shutters. I had wanted to stop speaking halfway through but I could not control myself. I had just uttered the last word when J. Temperance threw open the door, his pea coat soaked through and dripping on the black and white rug. He was drunk like I had never seen him. Rent was due tomorrow.

“Whadda you doing in my chair?”

I dropped the parchment when I stood up to appease him. I could smell his breath, an unpleasant odor of rye and bitters, and the collar of his white shirt was stained. He cracked his knuckles and I had noticed for the first time they were inked with the letters “The N.W.R.A.” I had an image of him down by the docks hauling in nets of dead fish by the hundreds, smoking vile cigarettes with unsavory types, and whispering sedition between large frothy mugs. He had respected my need to privacy so well I had learned next to nothing about him. Where my conception of him as a fisherman came from I cannot say but point at some pulp horror story I may have read in my youth.

“Pay your rates, you said…my chair…my book…your rates are ridiculous. How can a man survive? How can a man? The container drivers make nothing I tell you. Nothing.”

I placated him with a friendly pat on the shoulder. Now that he mentioned it, I could smell the diesel on his clothes. The fish smell must have been my imagination. He seemed to be sobering despite slurring his nonsensical fragments together.

“You shouldn’t have moved my…containers full of…my book. I keep it there for a reason. Don’t let the…don’t let the…containers…touch it…what is that there?”

Temperance scooped up the spell parchment with his greasy long-fingered hands. He turned it over and read with unbalanced eyes. I told him it was a bit of nonsense some patron left behind in an old library book but he wailed as the lights flickered again. He began to stomp through the apartment knocking ashtrays, lamps, and magazine racks over as he frantically searched for a missing object. In the kitchen, I heard him open the cupboard door below the sink and let loose another spine-shivering wail. Before I could move, he came back into the living room and seized the front of my shirt.

“You didn’t summon those hobgoblins, did ya? Are you a bloody frickin’ moron?”

“Hobgoblin? What are you going on about–”

“They are not innocent. Everyone always goes on about them…my book…being innocent. Playful creatures. But they aren’t. Not when they are hungry…hungry. We need clothes…socks…socks to banish them. Quick, give me your socks.”

J. Temperance looked at me with red, sorry eyes. Locks from his sandy hair fell into a point down the bridge of his aquiline nose. Gently, he began to snore. It took me a couple of minutes to lug his weight into his bedroom and tuck him in. I rolled him on his side and, partly out of whimsy, placed a sock on his face. When I reached my bedroom, the lights flickered a third time and the fishy odor permeated from underneath the floorboards. All night I heard the scampering of tiny legs and whispered laughter until I woke up with a sweat upon my forehead. At last, around four A.M., I found peace in slumber with a sock over my own face.

 

I met Mrs. Gloria Applebaum at the library on what would turn out to be my last day of employment. I must confess that I lied when I suggested I quit when it should be quite obvious that I was canned. Mrs. Gloria Applebaum was a large lady, but strong and fast. Who could forget her flat feet dodging the stacks of accumulated library material with the agility of a ballerina? She wore her usual vermilion cashmere sweater, grey slacks, and brown loafers, which there were rumors she had written down the Dewey Decimal System on the heels during her certification exam. Mrs. Applebaum greeted me with a firm handshake and followed me into my office. I shut the door against the regular commotion of lunch hour traffic. She sat in front of the desk rummaging through her purse with apparent ease.

“Gloria, I thank you for coming out on such short notice. It has been three years, yes? And poor Reginald, he was a good man. You must miss him very much.”

She nodded and went back to investigating her purse.

“I just have a matter of minor importance that shouldn’t take more than a minute or two of your time. I believe you to be an expert on such matters.”

“I quit the library. You are the expert now, Charles–”

“This is not a library matter. Although its origins can be found here at the library. With this book.”

I did not expect her reaction when I pulled from my desk drawer the battered copy of W.M.C.-Blob 59. Her purse dropped to the floor spilling its contents of keys, lipstick and powder, change, and small, round curios of a silver material. Her face was ashen.

“Where did you find that?”

“Here. In the stacks. There are many curious notes written by someone other than the author. You, perhaps?”

She nodded.

“What is this book, Gloria?”

“An English scheme. A prank. By a very serious, foolhardy boy.”

“This is no joke, Mrs. Applebaum. I have read it and read it correctly and I know it to be a very serious book. But there is an aspect of it that I just don’t quite grasp. If you could provide me some more information.”

“You shouldn’t have messed with. I suggest you put it back in the basement and be done with it,” then her shrewd eyes squinted together for a minute, “You summoned them, didn’t you?”

I crossed my legs, “Summoned what precisely?”

“City hobgoblins. I don’t suppose the country kind can travel so far from the meadows.”

“Gloria, I have always known you as a frank and serious lady rooted in reality. Folklore and superstitions are purely for the unfit and–”

“You never did have a grasp of the bigger picture, Charles. Always looking at the wall instead of the window. There are forces larger than us and there are forces smaller. Quite smaller, but no less powerful. I am quite shocked to learn you have discerned anything from that book with your ornery short-sighted world view. You probably smirk at the mention of hobgoblins. That makes them hungry. That makes them play their worst pranks.”

“Forces greater and smaller? Gloria, that reminds me of one of the lines in the book I did not quite understand. You see, I have a far better understanding of the occult than you give me credit for. The last few days I have made it my raison d’etre, if you will. The real difference between you and I have always been I kept my mouth shut instead of letting it make my co-workers think I am mental. Now tell me,” I found the passage that had troubled me, “what does this mean: “After Yig, after Shudde M’ell and the Cthonians below our feet, in the deeper crevices and steam vents play the mischievous wee-folk who answer only to Yhob.” It is about the hobgoblins, right? But what language is Yig from? Is Shudde M’ell an object, a magical incantation, a sphere of existence? Is Yhob some sort of deity?”

“You ask many dangerous questions, Charles, and questions I cannot provide answers for even if I knew them. Take one of these and keep it near you. It won’t do much, but you need all the help you can get.” She pressed one of the small silver curios into my hand as she stood up. At the door frame, she paused, “If you believe as much as you claim you do, for my sake Charles dear, keep your socks on.”

 

Returning home, J. Temperance was not in his room or in the apartment at all. For three days and nights, I huddled in my lounger re-reading puzzling sections of occult lore. I found few suggestions in any of the weird tomes I had borrowed from various university libraries around the city before my termination. From Joseph Bolden’s Cryptonicionary, I saw a horrible artistic representation of a Cthonian that set my teeth quivering for hours. In the Age Before Time, I pieced together odious implications about a snake cult in the Southwestern part of the United States that may have worshiped Yig. And, finally albeit I still try to hinder that memory from being recalled as I sit here in my cell, I learned of Yhob and the fate of the universe. I had read fervently for three days and nights, but I could not sleep for the strange shadows that played against my walls despite my efforts to block out all light from the living room. The water pipes made eerie sounds as if an undead symphony held a concert hall in the un-rented apartment below me. Every time my eye lids began to flutter, I heard the quiet grumblings of a thousand squeaky, elderitch voices babbling in an unknown language. At last, my exhaustion could hold no longer and I fell asleep, book in hand, on the stiff cushion of my chair, silver curio around my neck and both feet in blue cotton socks.

 

J. Temperance woke me with an aggressive slamming of my door. He had a new face in hell, lit from three days of alcoholic soirees with perhaps a bit of a gramme friday injected between pubs. His voiced was slurred and terrible, his body trembling for breath from dehydration and exhaustion. One of his boots was unlaced revealing a bare ankle.

“Putta block in it, Wizard of the Unholy Cloth! Are they here? Are they hiding? You didn’t think I knew…I knew. You didn’t think I was…Yhob…watching…I was watching. You. Flipping through those obscene books…muttering dark prayers…and demonic hymns. I…am going…Zerk…to stop…you…Thnk…C’n’C-S mithering, you Satanist!”

I had attempted to mollify him but I saw it was to no use. He held an axe in his hand taken from the wood shed out back. Outside, a gale screamed and pushed on the windows so that the shutters swung back and forth heavily against the side of the apartment. Temperance twisted his head, his arm lowering the blade toward the rug. I sprang at him the same moment the lights went out with the sound of fragmenting glass. I sucked in my breath in the cold dark as I collided with him and we tumbled off the door and onto the ground. For a moment, I thought the axe blade was stuck in me, but the pain in my ribs was too dull to be serious. So I told myself. I heard the scampering legs and no doubt J. Temperance did too because he slurred screams or screamed slurs, I could not really tell. My fingers found the wooden handle, but Temperance’s jerking boot caught my shoulder and I dropped it somewhere. The rug muffled its fall. In the corner of my eyes, I saw small pointed shadows like tiny figures in hats hopping about the shadows. I shook my head and cursed myself. I crawled across the floor searching for the axe.

“Yhob….they…are…here…C’n’c–”

There was a heavy noise and Temperance’s long legs began to thump on the floor with sickening regularity. There was an audible slicing sound followed by a popping like a kitchen knife cutting open a bag of air. Wet air, I thought, as something covered me and a pair of boots flew over my head. I found the axe halfway embedded in my chaise. W.M.C.- Blob 59 had been split in half. A bright flash of lightning temporarily lit the room. By the entrance way to the kitchen I saw a pair of legs bent at a hideous angle, bare feet pointing at the ceiling with missing toes. I bellowed and swung the axe but it was darkness again and the crazy whisperings and crooked phantasms of tiny people had disappeared.

 

That is all I can remember. There is no point reiterating my arrest and trial. I was quite catatonic which is probably why I landed in Arkham Asylum instead of prison. But a prison of the mind is the same as physical captivity, is it not? This torment is just one more stage in their prank. They could have killed me that night the same way as they did J. Temperance. Perhaps the curio did save me. Perhaps it marked me. Gloria was right. They are vile tricksters of the night.

The head psychologist has not been here for a week. Our last session had frustrated him as I continued to mention Yig, Cthonians, the city hobgoblins and their Lord Yhob. He ended it by stating the police had found no record of a Mrs. Gloria Applebaum in the city or any of the surrounding family farms. He spoke of hallucinations and multiple personalities. I told him about the tome I found in the library and he merely walked out the door. So now I sit in my padded cell, listening for them. They sounds of their hairy feet get louder every day. The light bulb in the ceiling seems a bit dimmer. And yesterday, the white-clothed attendants came for my socks.

Entry 0006: See the Way She Walks, Hear the Way She Talks

VelvetLP

LP: The Velvet Underground & Nico by the Velvet Underground (and Nico)

1978 Verve Records V6–5008 V6/5008

Favorite Track: Heroin

 

*Obviously, the Nico in this story is not the real Nico (who has been dead for 26 years now) but a nickname

The autumn air had a touch of frigid winter wind to it. I adjusted my coat lapels, put down my empty glass, and looked at the unfamiliar faces sitting at the table with me. I had seen many of their faces before: the round jovial face of a chanteuse, the unshaven, baggy-eyed Warhol model, the short haired girl whose voice always reminded me of Brooklyn even though I have never been there. We were laughing and the empties were stacking up. They had grew up together since high school. I was hoping my boyish face was betraying my old age. I stood up to buy another drink, opting to run up the stairs to the main bar counter. There I would meet Nico. Had I gone up those stairs to meet her without knowing it? Was it pure chance? Did she follow me up or had stayed rooted in spot waiting for my chance return?

I had ordered when I felt that invisible weight of somebody’s eyes upon me. I turned my head to the left, my eyes catching sight of a woman standing with her feet apart, grey tweed jacket thrown over a strapless dress the color of malachite. Her head was cocked to one side causing a strand of blond hair to fall in front of her smudged glasses. Her eyes looked at mine. My first impression was she had seen me before but I was not sure how or when. I turned my body toward her as I asked, “How is your night going?”

“It’s my birthday,” she said with the casualness of a movie star stating their profession.

“What would you like to drink?” and ordered her cocktail to be on my tab. (Funny how vivid this memory is, yet some small details have drained away like rainwater sinking into the sand.)

Nico introduced herself as a new graduate student in Classics. She didn’t have any friends in this area and she was at the bar with a male classmate with a rakish reputation. I wished her a wonderful night and walked back outside to join the table of strangers I was making friends with. I was whistling a Velvet Underground tune, but I won’t tell you which one.

 

The next time I met Nico was on the street and we exchanged numbers. It seemed as innocuous as it did naughty. I hadn’t been with a lover in a while and an organic intuition told me the same about her. When she walked into the coffeehouse a couple of days later, a femme fatale power strut with a slight clumsy gait to it (although the sidewalks in the Gaslight District are not known for their evenness), I understood we were going to be together. She knew when she offhandedly mentioned Stuart Gordon and I said Reanimator was one of my favorite movies. Food and drinks paid for, we walked the length of Ludlow sharing what we felt comfortable to share. I learned she had alienated herself from her classmate by getting drunk in front of them at the first social outing. I explained my friends and I were a riot of weirdness and depravity. She talked about how influential her former professor was in her current studies. I talked pipe dreams about Dostoevsky, Kafka, Robert Anton Wilson played upon my writing. The cloudless sky darkened into a royal purple.

We were hungry and ate at an Indian restaurant sharing some Saag Paneer. One of my deepest and most private of dreams was coming true: Nico was moving past platonic friendship with ease as if our bodies already had an unspoken agreement to intersect, overlap, divide. I drank deep the experience. Every color seemed more intense, the sound of our voices flowed along in symphonic harmonies, the wind was sharper. Standing in front of my apartment, I knew what intentions hid behind those clear glasses always stained with fingerprints. I chanced it. Told her I would call again. It seemed too soon.

In the next week, if we were the real Velvet Underground and Nico (would I be dangerous front man Lou Reed, the cool intellectual John Cale, versatile Sterling Morrison, or steady, dependable Moe Tucker, I guess she would have to decide) we were to record our first single “Sunday Morning”. A synergy between us intensified our bond, pushing and heightening itself well past normal experiences. She held my hand during neighborhood walks; I held her upright at the bar. At first with patience then with love, she attended Mystery Science Sundays with me; I awkwardly stood silent by her side at Grad parties. At night, we would make shadows across the television screen. She moved in her toothbrush.

We toured our inner psyches and pushed boundaries with our physical selves. Maybe alcohol was the most to blame for tensions creeping into our conversations, spoiling emotional connections, and anesthetizing romance. We rarely fought, a blessing really for both of us could be ornery. Occasionally, I touched a raw nerve or she supplied the snide commentary. For a long time, she had fought the label of couple even though nobody who knew us or saw us would claim otherwise. Then, at its rapidly deteriorating end, she clung to it like a buoy bobbing in a swirling ocean. Seeds had been sown and once I came to accept them, then I had to reap the consequences. I had never broken up with someone before and it is an experience I hope not to repeat often. Nico remained brave to the very end even as she fled in haste from my apartment. I watched her awkward gait I had come to secretly enjoy with a staleness in my mouth.

There is much more to this story–a whole complex history of ludicrous lore, intoxicating art, fuzzy feedback blowing out amps songs, 4thy of July and other parties, solitary nights wondering what the other was doing. But this is not the place for all of that. This is not a confessional or a casting of the stones. The real Nico only sang with the Velvet Underground for two years before leaving for her own solo career. This is an opening track, perhaps a slice of life, the beginning of sound to an album you buy at a record store for 5 dollars and carry with you for 8 years. Time and hindsight has contaminated some of the memories despite my urgency to represent them as precisely as possible. There is more to say, perhaps in the future I will, perhaps not. I just wanted to capture that special moment when the unexpected happened beneath the veneer of the mundane:  an encounter at a bar acting like the first sentence of a book composed of so much vital life.

I am humming a different Velvet Underground song (or maybe the same) and still I am not telling.

Entry 0005: Soundtrack to Summer Nights

KinksLP

LP: The Village Green Preservation Society by the Kinks

1975 Reprise Records RS 6327, Gatefold

Favorite Track: Do You Remember Walter?

 

By the time Roger arrived at the green-paneled house on Ponderosa Street, Sean was mixing bourbon and water in the kitchen. He had brought the bourbon in a small flask he kept in the inside pocket of his school blazer. His red rimmed eyes told Roger all he needed to know. They embraced quietly and then sat sipping their drinks in silence. Roger muttered a comment about Sean’s usually impeccably pressed shirt and trousers being in a state of ruin. Sean merely measured himself another finger length pull. When Parker pulled up in her husband’s muscle car, they were lit in somber merriment. Parker did not seem amused by their rosy cheeks and jerky movements. She declined Sean’s offer of his flask.

They knocked on the white door at the end of the hall, their shoes treading softly on the shag carpeting. They heard a muffled shout from inside and opened the door slowly even though there was no reason for it. They knew what they were about to see. He was in the bed with the covers up to his armpits, a family photo album stretched across his invalid legs. His eyes were large orbs in his sunken skull and were absorbed in memorization of the six or seven photos in his lap. No body commented on the stink inside the room, but Parker opened the window with a comment about the autumn breeze being good for his lungs. Their father coughed with an intensity designed at proving what little lungs he had left.

Sean, the oldest, sat right by his side, his hand holding his father’s. Parker and Roger stood at the end of the bed wondering how the giant of their childhood had been reduced to such dwarven proportions. His limbs made little impression under the blue covers as if his limbs were deformed or underdeveloped. One of the pillows propped behind his back was stained.

“Do you want me to turn the page?” Sean asked.

The large eyes swiveled inside the pallid caverns of his sockets, the pubils adjusting to the new light coming in from the open window. A low sound started deep in his chest and Sean pulled out his handkerchief but it was just the beginnings of his gravelly voice.

“Please put on Village Green.”

For a moment, the three siblings hesitated at the strange request. Their whole lives he had shown no musical interest except for the one Thanksgiving dinner sixteen years ago, Parker was only five at the time, when Sean had put Village Green Preservation Society on the phonograph in the living room. Then Gerald, a solid barrel-chested man with thick, hairy forearms from a lifetime of building furniture and fixing roofs, strummed his pudgy fingers on the tabletop, slowly at first as if chasing the rhythm one step behind until finally springing upon it when the B-side came on. Parker swore, although nobody believed her, not even their mother Suzanne who had passed away the next year from cancer, that he hummed along during “Last of the Steam-Powered Trains.”

Roger tugged at his rather overdeveloped earlobes, tucked in his grey flannel shirt and started toward the dresser next to the closet when Parker with brisk steps crossed in front of him and turned on the phonograph. After a few minutes of digging in a milk crate, she procured the requested album. Roger watched a tear swell in the corner of her eye about to overflow and streak down her freckled cheek. The needle scratched noisily against the dusty vinyl grooves.

“Did I ever tell you three this was the soundtrack to the happiest summer of my life?”

Parker whirled her head around to face Gerald. Her hands holding the album cover trembled slightly. Golden lights sparkled from the three triangular earrings dangling above her shoulders. Sean adjusted his grip on Gerald’s hand and said, “No, dad. But please tell us.”

Gerald gummed the air for a bit as if he had to consume the invisible ether to create words out of nothing. When he finally started to speak, the story came out in short bursts of vocalization that grew steadier over time until it seemed like the giant was tall and vigorous again, his voice booming like the whistle of a forgotten train.

“It was the summer I met your mother. The summer she stood on the roof shouting at me to come up and watch the meteorite shower with her. Me, a big boy but dumb. At university because of a football scholarship I should not have been granted. She, well you know your mother, she always was graceful. Even when she died, she maintained her grace. Unlike me who is returning to the mud one bit at a time.

But that was the summer of thunderstorms, car rides to the forest and the camp grounds, of seeing the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Suzanne never forgiven me for surprising her in the kitchen with the chainsaw revving. Our friends, Teddy and Olivia, got married. Pinkie got a girl pregnant then went over seas. Your mother and I could not stop dancing. She said my feet were possessed but I tell you I can watch her whisking her hips as clear as daylight now and it was she who moved as if in a trance. We danced in the rain, in the nude, in the dark, dancing with each others hands and hair and breath to all the hit songs, fast, slow, funky or weird. Once she even got me to pose in a black dress with an image of a Japanese garden on it while she wore this red cocktail dress that highlighted those fantastic legs of hers. Teddy took a photo, but it doesn’t seem to be inside this book here. I haven’t seen it in so long I would like to know how exactly I fit in such a small thing, but it would drape me now, wouldn’t it?

That was the summer of ’68. We were young, foolhardy, watching the world unravel around us. Maybe we were just scared. Both of us lived sheltered lives, lives spend doing chores and reading the Bible. The university was like an outer space planet brimming with extraordinary life, but Suzanne and I always felt most comfortable when it was just us. And Village Green. See she bought it for me because it came out on my birthday. Every night that summer, we would sit in the dark or sometimes candlelight after the Texas Chainsaw and listen to that album, looking into each others eyes. When there was a storm, we would listen to it until the power went out or we fell asleep on top of our coats.

I thought I almost lost that album one day. I was drunk. We had been fighting for over a week. I had gathered a bunch of memorabilia from that summer and threw it into the back seat of the car. I drove recklessly in circles unsure of my intentions when, by impulse or some calculated plans, I slammed on the brakes, threw the album out the window, and prepared to back over it. And that was when God used the radio to speak to me.

Ray Davies’s voice came from my speakers. “Na, na, na, na, na na.” Not even words. Just grunting to the tune. But it was enough to sober me. Enough for me to remember.

See, my children, that is all we really have. The one thing that can never be taken away unless we give it away. Memories. Store them. Revisit them. Share them. In the end, maybe they don’t add up to a complete story, or a happy story, or the story you thought you wrote yourself. But they add up and in that sense they are complete. That’s all you really need.”

Parker left the room in haste, album cover still in hand. Roger and Sean listened to the engine fade into the distance. Then looked back at their father expecting some more tales to come from the past he had kept secret for so long. But he was asleep with his finger on a photograph of Suzanne dancing.

Parker waited until after the burial to tell them the news. She had taken the album cover to a record shop in Cincinnati, but the owner couldn’t tell anything about it without the record itself. She had drove back the next day and removed the record while Gerald slept in bliss. At this point in the story, Parker became real quiet.

“The owner took one look at it. He said it wasn’t an original.”

Sean shrugged his shoulders, “What does that matter?”

“It is a second pressing,” Parker spit out.

Again, Sean rolled his great shoulders with each word, “What does that matter?”

“This record wasn’t made until 1975. That means that he didn’t have it in 1968. When he met mom. And danced. And listened to it in the dark. He may not have even had it when he attempted to back over it. His story was a lie.”

Roger said, “Wait. How did he know it was a second pressing? It looks damned old to me–”

“The label is all brown. The original was two-toned. Orange and brown. Sean, he lied. That beautiful memory was false.”

Sean looked down to the ground while his hand reached into his blazer but then paused and returned to his pocket. Roger saw indignation fight another unknown emotion for control of his face. He felt many things himself but he knew his father to never snoop to lies. As steady as he could make his voice, he said, “Maybe he just got the year wrong. He was old. Sick. Memories aren’t perfect.”

“Then why hold on to them?” Parker threw her glance in Roger’s direction and he flinched at the unbridled resentment sparking from every feature.

“What else–no, I mean to say, why not? What if those memories are real? What if he did back over that record than bought a second copy to replace it and forgot he had done so?”

“I would never forgive him,” Parker said.

Sean raised his voice, an odd tic making his left eye blink rapidly, “This happened before you were born. Why are you so upset by this?”

“I meant I would never forgive him if I were Suzanne.”

Roger pulled his sister into a hug. She fought him until the tears started. Sean gave an exasperated sigh and walked off toward the car, hand in blazer. A sparrow flew from the tree, its wings fighting the air for lift. The higher and higher it climbed, the less Roger was sure it was a sparrow. It could have been a finch or an oriole. But he wanted it to be a sparrow. When Parker calmed down, she apologized but Roger shook it off. She handed him the album in case he wanted it. She never wanted to see it again.

Sean couldn’t drive by the time Parker had left, so Roger pushed him into the passenger’s seat and drove the car back to the house. On the radio, Ray Davies voice came on. Roger thought he heard him sing about sparrows. Glancing in the rear view mirror where half of the album cover reflected, Roger began to hum.